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Humanities Nonfiction Social Sciences Theory

Challenging the Cisgender/Transgender Binary: Nonbinary People and the Transgender Label

By Helana Darwin, 2020

interviews with 41 nonbinary individuals reveal a considerable amount of ambivalence among nonbinary people regarding transgender identification. There is also disagreement about which model of transgender legitimacy determines group membership: the binary and medicalized model or the umbrella model. Those who do not identify as transgender either do not consider themselves to be “trans enough” to claim group membership alongside trans men and trans women or otherwise consider their gender experience to be qualitatively dif- ferent from the transgender experience. Meanwhile, those who do identify as transgender credit the umbrella model as authoritative while acknowledging that their claims to group membership are often resisted by those who uphold the binary transgender model. Finally, those who defy an easy yes/no transgender categorization schema qualify their transgender identification with admissions of doubt that they are really “trans enough” to claim the label or through linguistic practices that position themselves as tangentially transgender or as distinctly nonbinary transgender. This range of responses illuminates the diverse gender identities that coexist among nonbinary people that cannot be neatly sorted into a man/ woman or cisgender/transgender binary. research on the sociology of gender must expand beyond both of these binary frameworks to reflect the reality of gender diversity.

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